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Three key intelligence advisers are forced to resign, or fired, by neoconservative Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council (NSC)‘s presidential adviser on the Middle East (see December 2002 and December 2002). Flynt Leverett was the senior director for Middle East affairs on the NSC; Hillary Mann was a foreign service officer on detail to the NSC as its director for Iran and Persian Gulf affairs; and Ben Miller was a CIA staffer and an NSC expert on Iran. All three are forced out because they disagree with Abrams’s views towards Israel. Miller also questioned Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s fitness to become the new leader of Iraq. Leverett will later say: “There was a decision made… basically to renege on the commitments we had made to various European and Arab partners of the United States [in favor of Israel]. I personally disagreed with that decision.” According to Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terror and Unconventional Warfare, Abrams “led Miller to an open window and told him to jump.” Bodansky will also confirm that Mann and Leverett are ordered to leave the NSC by Abrams. [Unger, 2007, pp. 291]
In a classified report, the CIA states: “Requests for reporting and analysis of [Iraq’s link to al-Qaeda] were steady and heavy in the period leading up to the war, creating significant pressure on the Intelligence Community to find evidence that supported a connection.” This comment will not be publicly mentioned until September 2006, in a media leak of still classified material. [Newsweek, 9/13/2006]
A group including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger issues a report entitled “An American Security Policy.” The report, commissioned by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), lists six areas of security concerns ranked in their order of importance. Leading the field is the section called “The Loose Nukes Crisis in North Korea.” The second most pressing concern, the report says, is the unsecured nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Russia and the former Soviet states. Iraq is ranked fourth. [Carter, 2004, pp. 19]
The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other methods. According to a 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the officials “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.” [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s Jameel Jaffer will say: “This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations. And it’s further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
New York Times reporter David Sanger interviews Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation in February (see February 5, 2003). As he and Cheney have planned (see August 2002, June 27, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 18, 2003), Libby discloses classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Sanger (see October 1, 2002). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is the leadoff guest on NBC’s Meet the Press. Wilson is there to discuss his op-ed article in the New York Times detailing his debunking of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). He is followed by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), who have both just returned from a tour of Iraq; Washington Post columnist David Broder; New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller; and syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak. During his interview with guest host Andrea Mitchell, Wilson makes two main points, as he will later recall: “First, that in a democracy the decision to send troops to war had to be based on commonly accepted facts; and second, that if the war had in fact been based on a trumped-up threat of weapons of mass destruction, should we in the future face a real WMD threat, it would be much more difficult to convince the world or even the American people of its actual seriousness.” Wilson will recall that both Levin and Warner are “supportive” of his positions in their appearances, and that Broder characterizes his points as important. “The positions I had taken,” he will write, “were now part of the public discussion, and my credibility, though sure to be attacked, had been vouched for.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] Appearing after Wilson, Novak derides any concerns that the administration’s claims of Iraqi WMD might be false. “Weapons of mass destruction or uranium are little elitist issues that don’t bother most of the people,” he says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 98-99]
The Washington Post publishes an article about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed questioning the White House’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus report that Wilson says he was told that his mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney or his staff, and add that, according to “[a] senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA, but not at the behest of Cheney or his office. “It was not orchestrated by the vice president,” the official says. The truth of the matter is somewhat less clear, as Cheney asked his CIA briefer to have the agency send him information about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002)). It is not clear that Cheney asked for Wilson or anyone else to be sent to Niger, but Cheney did receive the CIA’s report on Wilson’s mission (see March 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/6/2003] The denial is part of a larger effort to distance Cheney from the Wilson mission to Niger and discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003).
According to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s deputy and imminent successor Scott McClellan, “Armed with updated talking points from the vice president’s office… Fleischer dispute[s] the notion that Cheney and others in the administration must have known about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings” (see March 5, 2002). Fleischer denies that Vice President Dick Cheney asked for someone to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from there (see (February 13, 2002)), and denies Cheney’s awareness of the mission until it was reported. However, Fleischer “inadvertently drop[s] a small bombshell,” according to McClellan. He tells reporters, “Now we’ve long acknowledged—and this is old news, we’ve said it repeatedly—that the information on [Nigeran uranium] did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.” McClellan will later acknowledge that the admission is anything but “old news,” and will write: “But Fleischer now appeared to suggest for the first time that the president’s 16 words in the State of the Union address had been based primarily on the Niger documents (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Up until that point, the White House had maintained that the president’s language had been deliberately broad so as to include African countries other than Niger” (see January 28-29, 2003). Reporters “jump[ed] all over the story,” McClellan will recall. “Admitting that something the president had said was wrong was big news, and it would need to be discussed among senior advisers and approved by the president.” McClellan will note, “Throughout the day, there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious.” According to McClellan, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of the strongest advocates for making the admission, and “her point of view prevail[s].” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-169]
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
The State Department sends a memo (see June 10, 2003) to Secretary of State Colin Powell as he is traveling with President Bush and other senior White House officials to Africa. Powell is seen during the flight walking around Air Force One with the memo in his hand. The memo concerns the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, where he learned that allegations of Iraq attempts to purchase Nigerien uranium were false (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and reveals his wife as a covert CIA agent. [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180] The paragraph identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official is marked “S-NF,” signfying its information is classified “Secret, Noforn.” Noforn is a code word indicating that the information is not to be shared with foreign nationals. [Washington Post, 7/21/2005; Newsweek, 8/1/2005] When Wilson’s op-ed debunking the uranium claim and lambasting the administration for using it as a justification for war appears in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s internal intelligence unit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at Ford’s home. Armitage asks Ford to send a copy of the Grossman memo to Powell, who is preparing to leave for Africa with Bush. Ford sends a copy of the memo to the White House for transmission to Powell. The memo relies on notes by an analyst who was involved in a February 19, 2002 meeting to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate the uranium claims, and if so, who (see February 19, 2002). The notes do not identify either Wilson or his wife by name, and erroneously state that the meeting was “apparently convened by” the wife of a former ambassador “who had the idea to dispatch” her husband to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon. Plame Wilson has said that she suggested her husband for the trip, introduced him at the meeting, and left after about three minutes (see February 13, 2002). The memo identifies Wilson’s wife as Valerie Wilson; when conservative columnist Robert Novak outs her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), he identifies her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. The memo will later become a matter of intense interest to investigators attempting to learn how Plame Wilson’s identity was leaked to the press (see (July 15, 2005)). [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, George W. Bush, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Colin Powell, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A photo of the Wilson op-ed with Cheney’s notes written on it. The clipping will be presented as evidence in the Libby trial. [Source: National Public Radio]According to court documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney has a conversation with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, where he “expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s trip [to Niger—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was legitimate or whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Soon after the conversation, Libby discloses Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to a reporter, adding that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). White House political strategist Karl Rove gives Time columnist Robert Novak similar information (see July 8, 2003). [National Journal, 6/14/2006] On a clipped copy of Wilson’s op-ed about his Niger mission (see July 6, 2003), Cheney writes: “Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [ambassador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” [New York Times, 5/14/2006; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a telephone conversation with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Neither Fleischer nor Novak will reveal the contents of that conversation, though the conversation takes place shortly after the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003) and a week before Novak, using White House sources, will reveal that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/19/2005] Fleischer will later testify (see January 29, 2007) that he learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent from White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Libby told Fleischer that the knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status is not widely known. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney writes talking points for press secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use with the press to address the recent New York Times op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who revealed that during a 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa, he found nothing to support administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). After Wilson’s op-ed, the White House was forced to back away from its claims about the uranium purchase (see July 6-7, 2003, July 7, 2003, and July 8, 2003), a move that Cheney and other White House officials believed damaged the administration’s credibility over its justifications for the Iraq invasion. Cheney then rewrites the talking points to provide White House officials with more information that can be used to discredit Wilson, and to maximize the chances that reporters will conclude that Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The lead talking point changes from the original version as drafted by Cheney press aide Cathie Martin: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger,” to Cheney’s: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Cheney will admit that in rewriting the talking points to draw attention to Plame Wilson’s putative role in arranging for the Niger mission, reporters might find out that she was a CIA officer. However, he will deny that he did anything on purpose to give reporters that information. FBI investigators will not be convinced by Cheney’s explanation.
Telling Reporters Cheney, Aides Knew Nothing of Wilson Mission - Another reason for revising the talking points is to give the impression that Cheney had little to no role in Wilson’s mission to Niger, and knew nothing of the trip before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 5, 2002). Cheney will later admit to FBI investigators that he rewrote the talking points to lead reporters to that conclusion—a conclusion that he hopes will paint Wilson’s trip to Niger as a nepotistic jaunt envisioned to discredit the administration. That conclusion is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cheney’s subsidiary talking points include: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger”; the “vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; Cheney’s office was not briefed about the mission until long after it occurred; and Cheney and his aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, only learned about the mission from reporters a year later. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Talking Points Revised Just before Libby Outs Plame Wilson to Reporter - Cheney revises the talking points on July 8, hours before Libby reveals Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporter Judith Miller and tells Miller that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both Cheney and Libby will later testify that Libby’s purpose in meeting with Miller is to leak classified intelligence information that the White House hopes will discredit Wilson’s allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to bolster its justification for the invasion (see July 12, 2003).
Talking Points Used in Morning 'Press Gaggle' - In the July 8 morning briefing for the White House press corps, informally known as the “press gaggle,” Fleischer reiterates the talking points, telling the reporters: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook.… They sent him on their own volition.”
'Growing Body of Evidence' that Cheney Directed Libby to Out Plame Wilson - In 2008, reporter Murray Waas will write, “That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame [Wilson]‘s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to Miller and other reporters.” Waas will write that Cheney’s admission adds to the “growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.” Cheney’s admission is not, Waas will note, the “smoking gun” that would prove he directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Neither does it prove that Libby outed Plame Wilson on his own by acting “overzealously” to follow Cheney’s “broader mandate” to besmirch and discredit Wilson. Waas will write that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes that Libby lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy in order to protect Cheney, perhaps to conceal the fact that Cheney had told him to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson, whose op-ed in the New York Times debunking the administration’s claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection has just appeared (see July 6, 2003), is warned to expect harsh retaliation by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Berger points out that since the Bush White House never backs down, the fact that they had admitted their error so quickly (see March 8, 2003) means that they have something even more important to protect. A Republican acquaintance of Wilson’s says that he and his fellows in the party are pleased with Wilson’s op-ed, as now they might have the ammunition necessary to confront the Bush neoconservatives. Wilson will write that his favorite reaction comes from his former National Security Council colleague John Pendergast, who tells Wilson, “Congratulations, you’re like the baboon who’s thrown the turd that finally hit the target and stuck.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 4] Within minutes of the story being published on the Times Web site, Wilson begins fielding questions from reporters, and accepts an offer to appear on the next morning’s broadcast of “Meet the Press” (see July 6, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] In response to Wilson’s editorial, then-White House press official Scott McClellan later writes: “Wilson’s performance turned the spotlight squarely on the charge being labeled by [Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof and other critics that the Bush administration had knowingly misled the public” about Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003). It further riled the vice president. It also provided the national media with a full-fledged controversy to cover, involving a colorful, outspoken character [Wilson] ready to level explosive charges against high-ranking officials.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168]
During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 ] Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003]
Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
“The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
“The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
“The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
“The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ]
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” [White House, 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).
Hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterates talking points from Vice President Dick Cheney emphasizing the lack of knowledge that Cheney and his office had of the trip taken to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 7-8, 2003 and 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby has lunch with Fleischer. Fleischer will later testify during Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) that Libby speaks extensively of the role of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, in sending her husband to Niger. According to Fleischer’s later testimony (see January 29, 2007), Libby tells him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer will testify that Libby calls her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. “He added it was ‘hush-hush,’ and ‘on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleischer will add. [White House, 7/7/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/15/2005; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] Fleischer will later testify that the conversation is “kind of weird” and note that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ] Libby will remember the lunch meeting, and testify that he thanked Fleischer for making a statement about the Niger issue, but will deny discussing Plame Wilson. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ]
The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. [BBC, 7/8/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003]
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 2003).
According to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, “high-level people at the CIA” say that no senior officials at the agency ever looked at the verbal report made by Joseph Wilson upon returning from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002), nor did they look at the notes from that report (see March 8, 2002). Senior agency officials, Mitchell says, “didn’t even know that it was he who had made this report, because he was sent over by some of the covert operatives in the CIA at a very low level, not, in fact, tasked by the vice president.” If true, Mitchell says, claims that Vice President Dick Cheney asked about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and that Wilson was sent to Niger as a result of Cheney’s queries, “may not, in fact, be true. It could very well be that the vice president is correct, that he never asked for Joe Wilson to be sent, that it was a much lower level.” Although Cheney may not have known of the Wilson mission until after its completion, he did in fact ask for an inquiry into the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see (February 13, 2002)). Mitchell is apparently repeating claims from the White House designed to emphasize its contention that neither Cheney nor anyone in his office had anything to do with sending Wilson to Niger
(see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). [CNBC, 7/8/2003] The same day, Reuters reports a similar claim from another US intelligence official, stating that “Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.” The Reuters report quotes the official as saying about Wilson and his recent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), “He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the US government at the time it was made.” Progressive columnist Joshua Micah Marshall responds: “The message here seems pretty clear: Joseph who? Wilson, this ‘intelligence official’ is saying, is some small-time operator who got sent to Niger by some mid-level functionaries at the CIA. All the people who counted had no idea he’d even gone on his trip. And they certainly didn’t know about his vaunted report.… I don’t find this claim particularly credible.… I don’t think dumping on Wilson, which seems to be the White House’s preferred strategy now, is going to cut it.” [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/8/2003]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, during which time he gives Miller information he wants her to use to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby tells Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent. After meeting with Miller, Libby returns to the White House and immediately consults with Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. At Miller’s request, Libby had promised her that he would try to find out more about Wilson and his wife, and apparently he goes to Addington for additional information about the two, asking, according to court papers filed as part of Libby’s later indictment (see October 28, 2005), “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas mission.” Addington assures Libby that the classified information he divulged to Miller (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003) was, by default, declassified once President Bush gave his permission to leak it: Addington tells Libby “that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document” (see July 12, 2003). Four days after Libby’s meetings with Miller and Addington, Libby speaks with Miller again, and gives her supplementary information about the Wilsons (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). The information comes from court records and documents later made part of the special counsel’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. Nothing in those documents and records suggests that Addington broke the law, or had any role in, or knowledge of, leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. However, as reporters Murray Waas and Paul Singer will later write: “Addington was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and Congressional sources. Moreover, as a pivotal member of the vice president’s office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe” (see October 1, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/8/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/27/2004 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer attempts to downplay and denigrate the report by former ambassador Joseph Wilson on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see February 13, 2002, March 4-5, 2002, and July 6, 2003). He asks the rhetorical question, “Wouldn’t any government deny it?” referring to Nigerien denials of any involvement in such a deal. Wilson quickly retorts in his own interviews that since he never spoke to any current Nigerien government officials, such denials must be part of another report. Wilson refrains from citing the reports by US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick and General Carlton Fulford (see November 20, 2001 and February 24, 2002) because, as he later writes, “I had wanted to limit my comments to my own personal experience.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 336] Fleischer is apparently unaware of an admission by a senior White House official that the administration erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003).
The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184; Washington Post, 4/9/2006] In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/22/2007]
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184] Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 361-362] Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Mayfield, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. Several members of the commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculation with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
While some find neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission of a terrorist conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to be compelling (see July 9, 2003), others do not. One group that is not convinced is the so-called “Jersey Girls,” the group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and then worked to force the Bush administration to create the Commission (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003). They lambast Commission director Philip Zelikow for allowing Mylroie to testify. “Jersey Girl” Lorie Van Auken, who has learned a great deal about Mylroie’s theories in her research, confronts Zelikow shortly after the hearings. “That took a lot of nerve putting someone like that on the panel,” she tells Zelikow. “Laurie Mylroie? This is supposed to be an investigation of September 11. This is not supposed to be a sales pitch for the Iraq war.” Van Auken later recalls “a sly smile” crossing Zelikow’s face, as he refuses to answer. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Van Auken will say. “He was selling the war.” After the hearing, Zelikow informs the staff that he wants them to aggressively pursue the idea of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Author Philip Shenon will later write, “To some members of the staff, Zelikow seemed determined to demonstrate that whatever the evidence to the contrary, Iraq and al-Qaeda had a close relationship that justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Judith Yaphe testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Yaphe, a CIA veteran who now teaches at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, is considered one of the agency’s most experienced and knowledgeable Iraq analysts. Yaphe states that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, it is improbable, based on what is currently known, that Hussein and Iraq had any connections to the 9/11 attacks, nor that a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is believable. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003] Yaphe is disturbed by the commission’s apparent acceptance of the testimony of Laurie Mylroie (see July 9, 2003), whose theories about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda have long been discredited by both intelligence analysts and outside experts. She wonders why Mylroie’s “crazed theories” were being heard at all, and why the commission would risk its credibility by giving Mylroie this kind of exposure. She even speculates that Mylroie’s testimony is some sort of setup by the commission or the staff, and hopes that her own testimony can offset Mylroie’s theories and help discredit Mylroie before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Yaphe tells the commission, in apparent reference to Mylroie, that the use of circumstantial evidence is “troubling” and that there is a “lack of credible evidence to jump to extraordinary conclusions on Iraqi support for al-Qaeda.” She also calls Mylroie’s theories of Iraqi spies using false identities to help execute the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993) worthy of a fiction novel and completely unsupported by fact. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003]
The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
President Bush, asked about the White House’s admission that he should not have claimed during his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, and July 8, 2003), does not admit his own error, but instead justifies the US’s invasion of Iraq based on somewhat different rationales than he has used before. Bush, speaking to reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, reminds his questioners that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology before the 1991 Gulf War (see November 1986, 1989, and January 16, 1991 and After), saying: “In 1991, I will remind you, we underestimated how close he was to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine a world in which this tyrant had a nuclear weapon.… [A]fter the world had demanded he disarm, we decided to disarm him. And I’m convinced the world is a much more peaceful and secure place as a result of the actions.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003] Bush’s rhetoric contains a subtle but important shift: he now refers to Iraq as having pursued a nuclear weapons “program” rather than having actual weapons themselves. [Rich, 2006, pp. 99]
According to later testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley brings up a July 8 appearance by NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell on CNBC (see July 8, 2003) during a meeting. In the meeting, Hadley complains that someone in the White House is trying to pin an inordinate amount of blame for prewar intelligence failures on the CIA, and CIA Director George Tenet is unhappy about it. Martin feels as if Hadley thinks she might be leaking information to the press about blaming the CIA. After the meeting, White House officials decide, according to Martin’s later testimony, to “keep communicators uninvolved” with information emanating from Tenet. Martin tells Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby that she did not give information to Mitchell. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007] Within days, President Bush will directly blame Tenet and the CIA for not catching the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see July 11, 2003). Tenet will take the blame for using the forgeries as the basis for Bush’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Columnist Robert Novak, preparing to publish a column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003 and July 14, 2003), speaks to Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is not known to be a source for Novak’s column, but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself is involved in outing Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit talking to Novak, but say the conversation hinged on Novak’s possession of the White House talking points distancing Cheney from the Wilson mission (see 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003). Libby will deny discussing Plame Wilson with Novak during their conversation. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
The Army releases the results of its investigation into the events surrounding the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003) and the capture and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003). The report concludes that Lynch did not empty her weapons at her attackers, as reported by many media outlets, nor was she shot and stabbed during her capture (see April 3, 2003). Lynch and fellow soldier Private Lori Piestewa suffered “horrific injuries” when their Humvee crashed into a jackknifed truck. Piestewa was not killed by Iraqis at the scene, as some reports alleged, but died of her injuries at a Nasiriyah hospital. Lynch, the report says, “survived principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis.” A Pentagon source says of the convoy’s reaction to being ambushed: “This was a fight. They got popped at different locations. There were battles. They were fighting back.” The report was written by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, and is largely based on an extensive commander’s investigation, called a 15-6 for the Army regulation that authorizes investigations of major incidents. The 15-6 report itself will not be released to the public. [Washington Times, 7/10/2003]
Mary Matalin. [Source: Slate (.com)]Mary Matalin, Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, warns Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson has recently published a column debunking the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger, and accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to create an overblown case for attacking Iraq (see July 6, 2003). Matalin tells Libby that Wilson is a “snake,” and that his “story has legs.” According to prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, who will present Matalin’s conversation during Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005), Matalin says: “We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand.” By “the cable,” Matalin is referring to the CIA’s debriefing of Wilson after his trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). Matalin also advises Libby to call NBC bureau chief Tim Russert and complain about MSNBC host Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Niger story. And she advises Libby to get a New York Times reporter such as David Sanger “or someone… to expose [the] Wilson story.” Two days later, Cheney will authorize Libby to declassify portions of the debriefing report (see July 12, 2003), telling him that President Bush has waved his wand, and Libby will again divulge Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, David Sanger, Chris Matthews, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Tim Russert, Peter Zeidenberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and NBC News reporter and anchor Tim Russert speak on the telephone. Libby wants to complain to Russert about an MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, and Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq-Niger controversy (see July 10, 2003). Libby will later claim that, during the conversation, Russert informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of war critic Joseph Wilson, is a CIA officer. “All the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer, Libby will testify that Russert says. Russert will testify that he and Libby never discuss Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), and at the time he has no knowledge of her CIA status. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; Washington Post, 1/10/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] It is unclear whether Libby speaks to Russert before or after his conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who tells him that he has “outed” Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak (see July 10 or 11, 2003).
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus calls former ambassador Joseph Wilson with a warning. The White House, says Pincus, is livid about Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), and, he says, “they are coming after you.” Wilson believes that Pincus’s warning relates to the ongoing White House attacks on his credibility (see July 8, 2003 and After), but does not put it together with his recent finding that conservative columnist Robert Novak is aware that his wife is a covert CIA official (see July 8, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
Shortly after he reveals to columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove advises Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of the conversation. According to the 2005 indictment filed against Libby (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke to a senior official in the White House (Official A) who advised Libby of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with… Novak, in which [Joseph] Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.” Attorneys involved in the case will later confirm that “Official A” is Rove. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
While President Bush is in Uganda, a reporter asks him, “Why—can you explain how an erroneous piece of intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection got into your State of the Union speech? Are you upset about it? And should somebody be held accountable, sir?” Bush replies, “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services…” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice responds more specifically a short time later, “I can tell you, if the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said ‘take this out of the speech,’ it would have been gone, without question,” Instead, after some changes sought by the CIA were made, “the agency cleared the speech and cleared it in its entirety.” Later in the day, CIA Director George Tenet accepts blame for allowing the allegations into the January 2003 speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), saying the information “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 7/12/2003] Reporter Steve Coll will later comment, “I don’t know what George Tenet felt as he saw that unfold, but I can imagine that he was dismayed and increasingly resentful that he was being singled out for blame. At the same time, he’s such an operator and such a student of Washington that surely, he understood what was happening, that he was being asked, in effect, to fall on his shield so that the president could be reelected.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Almost immediately after the CIA admits that President Bush never should have claimed that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), the White House begins backing away from the admission of error. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus tells former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 11, 2003) that he is receiving numerous phone calls from White House officials trying to take back the admission. One official tells Pincus that, in Wilson’s words, “telling the truth ‘was the biggest mistake the administration had made.’” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
According to a later account by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, around this time White House chief of staff Andrew Card takes over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger uranium controversy. According to McClellan, Card “direct[s] everyone on the White House staff to provide all relevant recollections and documents tracing the genesis and handling of the uranium claim, and Dan [Bartlett, White House communications director] to organize the information and develop a clear, forthright presentation that showed how such an egregious error occurred.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 176]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer learns from White House communications director Dan Bartlett that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a CIA agent. Bartlett is unhappy with press reports that say Vice President Cheney is responsible for sending Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002)). According to later testimony by Fleischer, Bartlett says: “I can’t believe he [Wilson] is saying the vice president sent him to Niger. His wife sent him, she works at CIA.” It is unclear whether Bartlett is speaking directly to Fleischer or merely speaking aloud in Fleischer’s hearing. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] After this pronouncement, Fleischer begins reading the CIA report of Wilson’s trip (see March 8, 2002), which he has gotten from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Clifford May, a conservative columnist, writes a column for the National Review that claims “[t]he president’s critics are lying” about the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. May states that President “Bush never claimed that Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium from Niger,” despite Bush’s words to the contrary (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). May writes that Bush’s claim was, precisely, that the British made the claim, not him or the US intelligence apparatus. In his column, May claims that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was indeed sent to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims by Vice President Dick Cheney, despite repeated efforts by the White House to deny any involvement by Cheney (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). May writes, “Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA to verify a US intelligence report about the sale of yellowcake—because Vice President Dick Cheney requested it, because Cheney had doubts about the validity of the intelligence report.” It is not known whether May has inside knowledge of Cheney’s involvement, or if he is merely stating his opinion as fact. May spends the rest of his column attacking Wilson as “a pro-Saudi, leftist partisan with an ax to grind.” [National Review, 7/11/2003]
While aboard Air Force One (see July 11, 2003), White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Ari Fleischer urge reporters, including Time correspondent John Dickerson, to write about the origins of Joseph Wilson’s CIA-backed mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Dickerson will later write that when he subsequently learns Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see July 14, 2003), he then understands what he calls “the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson.” [Office of Special Counsel, 10/3/2005 ; Slate, 2/7/2006]
According to a November 2004 article in the Washington Post, a syndicated column by Robert Novak exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003) may appear on the Associated Press wire as early as July 11, 2003, giving White House officials a chance to read the column and learn of Plame Wilson’s status three days before its appearance in print publications such as the Chicago Sun-Times. The Washington Post will say: “The timing [of the column’s appearance] could be a critical element in assessing whether classified information was illegally disclosed. If White House aides directed reporters to information that had already been published by Novak, they may not have disclosed classified information.” [Washington Post, 11/26/2004] Novak sends a draft copy of the column to at least one person on this day: conservative lobbyist Richard Hohlt (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003). Many of the White House leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity come on or before this day (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). And on this day, Novak is still attempting to confirm that Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA official (see (July 11, 2003)).
The CIA’s Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sends a draft of a written statement by Director George Tenet about the Niger uranium affair to the White House. Tenet’s statement will acknowledge that he is responsible for the false claims by President Bush and other administration officials that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). McLaighlin sends the draft to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, but it is marked “Unacceptable” by Vice President Dick Cheney. The draft of Tenet’s statement will be entered into evidence in the 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007] It is unclear why Cheney rejects the draft.
Bill Harlow, a CIA spokesman, has a conversation with conservative columnist Robert Novak regarding Novak’s plans to reveal the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson in a forthcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Novak has learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), and has already spoken to White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Harlow will testify about his conversation with Rove to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004. In speaking with Novak, Harlow warns as strongly as he can without revealing classified information (i.e. Plame Wilson’s covert status) that Plame Wilson did not authorize her husband’s mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and Novak should not reveal her name or CIA identity. After their conversation ends, Harlow checks with other CIA officials, and confirms that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative. He then calls Novak back and reiterates that her name should not be used (see Before July 14, 2003). Harlow does not tell Novak that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative, because that information is classified. Novak will ignore Harlow’s warnings and reveal Plame Wilson’s name in his July 14 column. In an October 2003 column, he will minimize Harlow’s warnings, writing that an unidentified CIA official (Harlow) “asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that [she] or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name” (see October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 7/27/2005]
Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, takes notes on “spin options” available to the White House regarding the administration’s admission that its claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection are false. Cheney has already rejected a draft of a statement to be released by CIA Director Tenet, taking responsibility for the false claim (see July 11, 2003). On the second page, Martin takes copious notes documenting the administration’s options. The first in the list is to put Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press to dodge the claim, with annotations as to the pros and cons of that particular effort. The second option is to leak information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD programs (see October 1, 2002) to reporters. Two reporters, the New York Times’s David Sanger and the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, are mentioned as possible targets of the planned leak. [Office of the Vice President, 7/11/2003 ; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007] In 2007, Martin, will testify as to the strategies discussed by Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003) and the communications staff (see January 25-29, 2007). One option is to have Cheney go on “Meet the Press;” notes from the strategy discussion cite the pros of going on that show as “best format, we control the message,” but Martin and others fear having Cheney coming across as defensive. Another option is to approach Sanger, whom the notes say is working on “what he thought was a definitive piece, we could go to Sanger and tell him our version of this.” The discussion also cites the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus as a possible leak recipient. Another option is to have either National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hold a press conference. Finally, they can have a sympathetic third party write an “independent” op-ed for a national newspaper such as the Post or the New York Times that would promote their message. Martin also speaks with Time’s Matthew Cooper, and informs him that the administration is backing away from its claims that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Donald Rumsfeld, Mary Matalin, David Sanger, Bush administration (43), Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Walter Pincus, NBC News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, answers calls to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). In March, Roberts refused to sign off on a request from his committee to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see March 14, 2003). In June, his committee released a report defending the White House’s use of the uranium claims (see June 11, 2003); on that same day, Roberts and fellow Republicans denounced calls to investigate pre-war intelligence (see June 11, 2003). In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Roberts’s call for an investigation plays into the administration’s attempts to pin the blame for the uranium claims directly onto the CIA, and in a larger sense to blame the CIA for all the intelligence failures preceding the invasion of Iraq. According to McLellan: “On a broader front, the White House sought to dispel the nation that the intelligence had been ‘cooked’ by showing that it had been provided and cleared by the CIA. Most observers—war critics and supporters, Democrats and Republicans—had shared the assumption that Saddam had WMD programs and likely possessed at least some chemical and biological weapons. Only now, after the fact, were some prominent critics disavowing or downplaying their earlier belief, and the partisan tone of their attacks provided us with the gist of our counterattack.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
According to author Craig Unger, the White House’s version of events concerning its recent admission of error concerning the Iraq-Niger claim (see July 8, 2003) is followed by most US mainstream print and broadcast news sources. Only “comedy news” shows like Comedy Central’s Daily Show and HBO’s Real Time, MSNBC’s political commentary show Countdown, and some liberal, progressive, and civil libertarian blogs attempt to tell a story not shaped by the White House (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). By and large, the mainstream media tells the story from the White House’s point of view. [Unger, 2007, pp. 312] In early 2007, author Eric Boehlert will add details to Unger’s statement (see February 6, 2007).
While in Uganda for a presidential trip to various sites in Africa, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells two reporters that Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, according to Fleischer. He also tells the two men, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, that Plame Wilson is responsible for sending her husband to Niger to investigate claims of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Fleischer says, “If you want to know who sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger, it was his wife, she works there.” Reporter Tamara Lippert of Newsweek is present for parts of the conversation. Fleischer will recount the story as part of his testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see July 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007] Later, Dickerson will say that Fleischer does not talk about Plame Wilson in his hearing, but merely prods him to investigate the origins of Wilson’s Niger mission (see July 11, 2003). Dickerson will write: “I have a different memory. My recollection is that during a presidential trip to Africa in July 2003, Ari and another senior administration official had given me only hints. They told me to go inquire about who sent Wilson to Niger. As far as I can remember—and I am pretty sure I would remember it—neither of them ever told me that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.” [Slate, 1/29/2007]
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails his editor, Michael Duffy, about the conversation. In the e-mail to Duffy entitled “Subject: Rove/P&C” (for personal and confidential), Cooper begins, “Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation.” After noting some of the details above and making some recommendations as to how to handle the story, Cooper concludes, “please don’t source this to rove or even WH [White House].” He suggests that Duffy have another reporter check with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; Newsweek, 7/10/2005] Cooper will later explain the “double super secret background” reference as a joke, referring to the movie Animal House, in which the fraternity is placed on “double secret probation.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 223-224]
White House political strategist Karl Rove, upon concluding a phone conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in which Rove divulged the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the conversation. “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming,” Rove writes. “When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt? I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.” According to the Associated Press, this is the first indication that an intelligence official knew Rove talked to Cooper before Cooper’s Time article about Plame Wilson and the White House effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Rove will testify about the e-mail to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004 (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005), telling the jury that he never intended to leak Plame Wilson’s identity, but rather wanted to warn Cooper about some of the allegations Wilson was making about the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq. Rove is aware that conservative columnist Robert Novak, whom he has already spoken to about Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003), is planning an article on the Wilsons (see July 14, 2003). He also knows that CIA Director George Tenet is planning to take responsibility for the false Iraq-Niger uranium claims made by President Bush and other White House officials (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Associated Press, 7/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/3/2005] In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will note that Rove’s version of the conversation as he recounts it to Hadley is substantially different from the material Cooper records in his notes. Most notably, Rove fails to tell Hadley about his outing of a CIA official. Leopold will write, “It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told its staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson’s Niger claims.” [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, and discussing the conversation with his editors at Time (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Cooper sends Martin a list of questions pertaining to their conversation. He focuses on the White House’s attempt to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, and does not ask about Plame Wilson. Martin prints the e-mail and annotates it with brief answers to some of Cooper’s questions. Cooper wants to know:
“Who in the vice president’s office communicated to the CIA their interest in the Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002) and July 6, 2003)? How and when was that communication performed?”
“Did the VP or a member of his staff discuss the Niger allegation in any of his personal visits to Langley [CIA headquarters]” (see 2002-Early 2003)? Martin writes “No” beside the question.
“Did the VP or a member of his staff play any role in the inclusion of the allegation in the president’s SOTU [State of the Union address]?” Martin writes “No” beside the question (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003).
“In addition to the VP sitting in on the president’s regular intel briefings, what other intel briefings does the VP get? Part of the answer to this, if I recall correctly from newspaper accounts, is that he often or regularly gets his own CIA briefing in the morning as he’s being driven to work.”
“How many persons are employed by the veep’s national security staff?”
“In previous VP stories Time has done (before my time), we’ve been told that the VP has a voracious appetite for ‘raw’ intelligence. Still true?” [White House, 7/11/2003]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims of a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger during a fact-finding trip to Africa (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at CIA Director George Tenet’s admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim “should never have been included in the text written for the president” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). According to his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140] Wilson himself will recall believing: “I honestly thought that my exposure in the matter would quickly fade, as the administration would now have to concentrate on the serious question of competence among the members of the president’s staff. I told any interested friends and all inquisitive journalists that as my charges had been satisfactorily answered, I’d have nothing more to say. I honored obligations for interviews that I had previously accepted, but I denied any others in order to allow the waters I’d roiled to still. I thought that surely the focus of the debate would shift away from me. How naive and mistaken I was on that score!” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
Time reporter John Dickerson speaks with his colleague Matthew Cooper about Cooper’s recent conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove told Cooper that war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is the CIA official who sent Wilson on his mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cooper sent an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson has just recently learned that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official from another White House source (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The two reporters agree that Cooper should pursue the story. As Dickerson will later write: “Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.” [Slate, 2/7/2006] Six days later, Time will print a story co-authored by Cooper and Dickerson that uses Rove’s disclosure as a central element (see July 17, 2003).
Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. [Newsweek, 2/26/2007] Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Jeralyn Merritt, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Around the same time that Lewis Libby calls Time reporter Matthew Cooper and reveals the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Libby also calls Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler. Libby is attempting to discredit claims by former ambassador Joseph Wilson that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq, and is trying to distance Vice President Dick Cheney from any intimation that he was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). The stories of the conversation differ between the later statements of the two men. In testimony during the Libby perjury trial, Kessler will deny speaking to Libby about either Wilson or Plame Wilson; Libby will say, however, that he tells Kessler that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official. [Washington Post, 6/23/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
The same day that Vice President Dick Cheney tells his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to disclose classified information from a CIA report to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 12, 2003), Libby and Cheney, along with Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin, fly to and from Norfolk, Virginia. During the flight, the three discuss how they can rebut Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s war effort and discredit him. They consider passing information to reporters such as Time correspondent Matthew Cooper (see 12:45 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler (see July 12, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Washington Post, 10/30/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] Cheney tells Libby to leak classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD to reporters (see July 12, 2003). Cheney also tells him to steer reporters towards a recent statement by CIA Director George Tenet that asserts Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers “on their own initiative” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Raw Story, 10/1/2005; New York Times, 10/1/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] He also tells Libby to alert reporters to the morning’s attack on Wilson by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/30/2005] And Cheney tells Libby to ask the CIA to back his assertion that the Office of the Vice President knew nothing of the Wilson mission and “didn’t get the report back,” referring to the CIA’s report on Wilson’s debriefing (see March 5, 2002). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] According to the FBI’s investigation, Cheney and Libby discuss whether to tell reporters that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007] Libby will “out” Plame Wilson to Cooper later this afternoon (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) as well as to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Cheney may have given Libby direct orders to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, according to classified transcripts of Libby’s later testimony to FBI investigators. According to Libby’s notes of the conversation, Cheney says that the CIA has told him that Wilson was sent to Niger “at our behest,” referring to the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Libby’s notes also state that Cheney told him Wilson’s “wife works in that division.” Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), a bureau within the agency’s counterproliferation division. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Judith Miller, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Glenn Kessler, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, in Nigeria with President Bush and his entourage, hosts an early-morning press gaggle in which he discusses war critic Joseph Wilson and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims. (The gaggle takes place at 8:20 a.m. local time; Eastern Daylight Savings Time in the US is five hours behind.) In light of recent admissions that the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Fleischer tries to steer the press’s attention onto Wilson, saying that he “also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official, Wilson, meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanding commercial relations between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it, who never said anything about forged documents, reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.” Fleischer is referring in part to a 1999 trip by Wilson to Niger to investigate earlier claims of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999). [White House, 7/12/2003] In the CIA debriefing for his 2002 trip to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002), Wilson did not say that Iraqi officials were attempting to engage Nigerien officials in negotiations to buy uranium; in neither of his missions to Niger did any Nigeriens ask him to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss commercial ventures of any kind. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later subpoena the transcript of Fleischer’s press gaggle for his investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 22, 2004). [Marcy Wheeler, 11/1/2005]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, returning from Africa aboard Air Force One, attacked the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, just hours before (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney has coordinated a White House strategy to discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). Fleischer tells Pincus that the White House paid no attention to the 2002 mission to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) because it was set up as a boondoggle by Wilson’s wife, whom Fleischer incorrectly identifies as an “analyst” with the agency working on WMD issues. Pincus will not reveal the Fleischer leak until October 2003. [Pincus, 7/12/2003 ; Nieman Watchdog, 7/6/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Reporter Murray Waas will later write that Fleischer outed Plame Wilson to Pincus and others “in an effort to undermine Wilson’s credibility.” [American Prospect, 4/22/2005] Fleischer will later testify that he did not inform Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2004 and January 29, 2007). “No sir,” he will say. “I would have remembered it if it happened.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirms to Time reporter Matthew Cooper that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Libby has been in regular communication with senior White House officials, including political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. On July 11, the two spoke privately after a staff meeting. According to later testimony from both Rove and Libby, Rove told Libby that he had spoken to columnist Robert Novak on July 9 (see July 8 or 9, 2003), and that Novak would soon write a column about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Today, Libby joins Cheney and others flying to and from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Air Force Two; on the return trip, Libby discusses with the others what he should say in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s recent column (see July 6, 2003 and July 12, 2003). After returning to Washington, Libby calls Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, who has already learned from Rove that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Libby’s 2005 indictment (see October 28, 2005), “Libby confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information, too,” that Plame Wilson was CIA. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Libby speaks “on the record” to deny that Cheney had anything to do with the CIA’s decision to send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). On background, Cooper asks Libby if he knows anything about Wilson’s wife being responsible for sending him to Niger. Libby replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” [Cooper, 7/12/2003 ; Cooper, 7/12/2003 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ; Time, 7/17/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ] Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin and Libby’s aide Jenny Mayfield are present for Libby’s call to Cooper. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ] Later this afternoon, Libby phones New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discusses Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller again speaks to Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in regards to the Iraqi WMD controversy and the recent op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). In Miller’s notes, she writes the words “Victoria Wilson.” Libby has twice informed Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003 and 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Miller Unsure of Details of Disclosure - In testimony about the interview two years later (see September 30, 2005), Miller will say that “before this [telephone] call, I might have called others about Mr. Wilson’s wife. In my notebook I had written the words ‘Victoria Wilson’ with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I [testified] that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.” In her testimony, Miller will say that at the time, she believed she had heard Wilson’s wife only referred to by her maiden name of Plame. When asked whether Libby gave her the name of Wilson, Miller will decline to speculate.
Criticizing Plame Wilson's Husband - During their conversation, Libby quickly turns the subject to criticism of Wilson, saying he is not sure if Wilson actually spoke to anyone who had knowledge of Iraq’s attempts to negotiate trade agreements with Niger. After Miller agrees to attribute the conversation to “an administration official,” and not Libby himself, Libby explains that the reference to the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger in President Bush’s State of the Union address—the so-called “sixteen words” (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—was the product of what Miller will call “a simple miscommunication between the White House and the CIA.”
'Newsworthy' Disclosure - Miller will later testify that at the time, she felt it “newsworthy” that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and recommended to her editors that the Times pursue the angle. She will write: “I felt that since the Times had run Mr. Wilson’s original essay, it had an obligation to explore any allegation that undercut his credibility. At the same time, I added, I also believed that the newspaper needed to pursue the possibility that the White House was unfairly attacking a critic of the administration.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/27/2004 ; New York Sun, 10/4/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ]
Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed calling on President Bush to stick to his campaign promise of truthfulness and transparency, particularly in regards to the allegations that his administration manipulated intelligence to build a case for war with Iraq (see July 6, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Bush is “presiding over a [White House] where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by shell games,” she writes, and allowing the CIA to take blame for the fallacious representation of intelligence amounts to little more than “mendacity.” According to Dowd, Bush should have said of the “sixteen words” in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003): “The information I gave you in the State of the Union about Iraq seeking nuclear material from Africa has been revealed to be false. I’m deeply angry and I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” But, Dowd writes, he did not. Dowd pins much of the blame on Vice President Dick Cheney and the Office of the Vice President. [New York Times, 7/13/2003] Almost four years later, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will enter a clipping of Dowd’s column, annotated by Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, into evidence in Libby’s perjury trial (see Late January 2007).
Two White House officials call at least six Washington journalists to tell them that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent. Wilson wrote an op-ed criticizing the administration’s Iraq policies and claiming that the allegations of Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger are unsubstantiated (see July 6, 2003). In return, administration officials are attempting to discredit Wilson by alleging that his wife, undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, sent him on the journey (see July 17, 2003). Plame Wilson will be outed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), who received the tip from two administration officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003) and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] One of those journalists is the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), who later testifies that he learns of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see (July 11, 2003)) on July 12. Pincus will testify that, during a conversation about the Iraq-Niger WMD claim, Fleischer “swerved off and said, in effect, don’t you know his wife works at CIA, is an analyst on WMD, and she arranged the trip, that’s why people weren’t paying attention to it.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Outing 'Clearly ... For Revenge' - On September 27, a senior administration official will confirm that two officials, whom he/she does not name, called Novak and other journalists. “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official says. A reporter will tell Joseph Wilson that, according to either Armitage or Rove, “The real issue is Wilson and his wife.” Other sources will say that one of the leakers describe Plame Wilson as “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). When the administration official is asked why he/she is discussing the leakers, the response is that the leaks are “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility” (see September 28, 2003). Wilson will state publicly that he believes Rove broke his wife’s cover (see August 21, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
Wilson: Journalists Fear Reprisals - Wilson later writes: “A reporter told me that one of the six newspeople who had received the leak stated flatly that the pressure he had come under from the administration in the past several months to remain silent made him fear that if he did his job and reported on the leak story, he would ‘end up in Guantanamo’—a dark metaphor for the career isolation he would suffer at the hands of the administration. Another confided that she had heard from reporters that ‘with kids in private school and a mortgage on the house,’ they were unwilling to cross the administration.… What does it say for the health of our democracy—or our media—when fear of the administration’s reaction preempts the search for truth?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 440]
From left to right: Omar Opik Lasal, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, and Abdulmukim Edris. [Source: All three pictures Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, escapes from Camp Crame, the highest security prison in the Philippines. Two Abu Sayyaf figures, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, escape with him. There are many oddities about their escape:
The three men apparently have a spare set of keys, unlock their cell door, relock it, walk out of the jail building and through the prison gates, and then use a small guardhouse to vault over a compound wall. Additionally, the cell door was so rusted that it could simply be lifted by its hinges and moved aside. The nearest guards are either sleeping or out shopping. A prisoner left behind tries to notify the guards about the escape, but is ignored. Only when the guards are changed five hours later is the escape discovered, and many more hours pass before Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other top leaders are notified. All four guards on duty at the time of the escape will later fail lie detectors tests. One will say they were set up by higher-ups to take the fall. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003]
The janitor in the prison at the time is Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali). Ramos worked with major al-Qaeda figure, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and was part of Konsonjaya, a front company run by Hambali used to fund the 1995 Bojinka plot. He had given al-Ghozi explosives which were used in a 2000 bombing. After he was arrested in 2002, not only was he not charged, but he was made a protected witness and given the janitor job (see Shortly Before December 24, 2000). [Ressa, 2003, pp. 136; Gulf News, 6/10/2003; Australian, 7/18/2003]
Lasal will be rearrested on October 8, 2003, and will admit, “I am a government asset, a deep penetration agent.” He will say he helped the Philippine military track al-Ghozi after the escape. He says he joined Abu Sayyaf in 1992 and soon began informing on the group. He claims he has a brother and a cousin who were informants on Abu Sayyaf as well. “Wherever we went, the military knew our whereabouts, because I was giving them the information.” He is seen after his rearrest walking into Manila’s Hall of Justice without any handcuffs on and only one escort. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10/15/2003] He will be arrested in 2007 and then let go after it is reported he was confused with his cousin and in fact is in a witness protection program. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3/20/2007]
One week after the escape, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Edris, the alleged leader of the Abu Sayyaf’s explosives team, has long-time links to the Philippine military and police. A police intelligence source says that he has been a government asset since 1994. He had been arrested in November 2002 and proclaimed “the No. 1 bomber of the Abu Sayyaf” by the Philippine president. Edris was implicated by other captured Abu Sayyaf suspects as the mastermind of a series of bombings in Zamboanga City in October and November 2002 that killed over a dozen people, including a US Green Beret. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003]
Supt. Reuben Galban, chief of the police Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office, is fired after failing a lie detector test about the escape. He fails questions about planning the escape and getting paid for it. An intelligence source will claim that Galban and Senior Supt. Romeo Ricardo were in on the escape as handlers for Edris, one of the escapees and an alleged government informant. Ricardo does not take a lie detector test. The source claims: “Edris was deliberately delivered to Al-Ghozi for them to develop trust and confidence. It’s what we call in the intelligence community as human agents manipulation but what is so wrong in this case was the fact that they did it at the expense of the national security.” A police investigator admits that this angle is being pursued as a theory to explain the escape, but “no target would justify the humiliation brought about by this incident.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003] Galban was at the prison outside of his usual hours during the escape, which took place in the middle of the night. He also had recently moved al-Ghozi from a secure floor in the prison to the least secure floor. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003]
Six officers of the Philippine National Police’s Intelligence Group are charged with graft and gross negligence in relation to the escape. Galban is one of those charged but Ricardo is not. [Manila Bulletin, 7/25/2003] However, about one month after the escape, an investigative team concludes there was no collusion between any officials and the escapees. Apparently the charges against the six officers are quietly dropped. Twenty police or intelligence officers are fired, but no higher-up officials. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003; Manila Sun Star, 8/28/2003]
Intelligence agents from the Armed Forces Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTAF) will later implicate police director Eduardo Matillano in the escape. Two intelligence agents will be caught monitoring Matillano’s house one week after the escape. Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya will say of the agents, “Somebody gave them a license plate number of a car allegedly connected with the escape of al-Ghozi and they traced it to the home of Matillano.” Mantillano threatens to press charges against the ACTAF, but apparently does not do so. He also is not fired. [Asia Pulse, 7/22/2003]
Edris and al-Ghozi will be shot and killed in August and October 2003 respectively by Philippine authorities (see October 12, 2003). Supposedly they are killed while resisting being rearrested. But many, including Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest they were both summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in the escape. [Manila Bulletin, 10/18/2003]
Some elements in the Philippine military are so suspicious about the circumstances of the escape that two weeks later they stage a mutiny to protest this and other issues. They claim the Philippine government has been manipulating rebel groups and even staging or allowing terrorist bombings to manipulate the population (see July 27-28, 2003).
Entity Tags: Aquilino Pimentel, Romeo Ricardo, Cosain Ramos, Abdulmukim Edris, Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Reuben Galban, Omar Opik Lasal, Eduardo Matillano, Philippine National Police, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, Narciso Abaya, Jemaah Islamiyah
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In his final press conference before leaving the administration, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer continues to assert the possible validity of the admittedly false Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “I think this remains an issue about did Iraq sek uranium in Africa,” he says, “an issue that very well may be true. We don’t know if it’s true (see July 8, 2003), but nobody can say it’s wrong.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 100]
PBS graphic of Washington Post’s headline for Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson. [Source: PBS]As dawn breaks, former ambassador Joseph Wilson enters his bedroom and drops a copy of the day’s Washington Post on the bed. His wife, senior CIA case officer and covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson, awakes. Wilson says, “Well, the SOB did it.” Wilson indicates the editorial page, where conservative columnist Robert Novak has revealed his wife’s status as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson later recalls: “I felt like I had been sucker-punched, hard, in the gut. Although we had known for several days that he had my name and knew where I worked (see July 8-10, 2003), we never believed for a moment he would actually print it or that the agency would allow it. It was surreal.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143] Wilson later writes: “Foreign intelligence services would not attack us, but they might well threaten any contacts Valerie might have made in their countries, and they would certainly be eager to unearth operations she might have been involved in. International terrorist organizations were a different story, however. There was a history of international terrorists attacking exposed officers. The station chiefs in Athens, Greece and Beirut, Lebanon, after having been exposed by renegage CIA officer Philip Agee, had been assassinated; and in the US, there had been the instance of a terrorist sniper killing employees as they were driving into the CIA headquarters grounds at Langley, Virginia, in 1993. But what really made us nervous was the possibility of harm from some deranged person in the US who believed that the voices in his head emanated from the transmitter the CIA had installed in his teeth the last time he visited the dentist.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 395-396] Plame Wilson immediately thinks of the assets in foreign countries she had recruited and/or worked with (the CIA will redact her specific words in her book). She also thinks of “the many people overseas I had met under completely innocent circumstances.… They too could come under a cloud of suspicion if their governments learned of our contact. I tried to calculate the level of risk and weirdly sought to remember if Novak’s column ran overseas, as though that would make it better if it didn’t appear outside the United States. The next instantaneous thought was for my family’s security. There are many disturbed people out there who hate the CIA or anyone associated with it. I didn’t want to deal with a stranger on my doorstep or worse. Furthermore, al-Qaeda now had an identified CIA agent to put into their target mix.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Vice President Dick Cheney, with his chief of staff Lewis Libby present, asks CIA briefer Craig Schmall whether he has read Robert Novak’s article outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). According to an affidavit filed in the Libby perjury trial, Schmall has not read the article at this time. Some time thereafter, Schmall warns Cheney and Libby about the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of an employee as Novak has done. [CIA, 7/14/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/12/2006 ]
Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After Robert Novak outs Joseph Wilson’s wife in his column (see July 14, 2003), Wilson, upon reading the column, realizes that in his conversation with Novak four days before, Novak had told him he learned of his wife’s CIA identity from a CIA source (see July 8-10, 2003). But in his column, Novak cited two senior administration officials as his sources for Wilson’s wife’s CIA identity. Wilson calls Novak to ask about the discrepancy. Novak asks Wilson if he is “very displeased” with the column, and Wilson replies that while he can’t see how blowing his wife’s CIA cover had helped Novak’s argument, he wants to know about the discrepancy between Novak’s attribution of sources four days before and in his column. Novak says he “misspoke” in their earlier conversation. In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson asks: “What was Novak trying to say? What did blowing her cover have to do with the story? It was nothing but a hatchet job.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 345] Novak may have been referring to his conversations with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003).
Matt Drudge. [Source: Brian K. Diggs / Associated Press]ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division in Fallujah, interviews US soldiers angry that their tours of duty have been extended just a week after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised they would be going home. One soldier says he would like to ask Rumsfeld “why we’re still here, ‘cause I don’t, I don’t have any clue as to why we’re still in Iraq.” Another soldier says, “I’d ask for his resignation.” Within hours after Kofman’s report is broadcast, conservative news and gossip monger Matt Drudge attempts to damage Kofman’s credibility by printing a story under the headline, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story—Openly Gay Canadian.” (Eight minutes later, he changes the headline to read, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story is Canadian.”) Drudge credits the information about Kofman, who is both openly gay and Canadian, to “someone from the White House communications shop.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101] Drudge later identifies White House press secretary Scott McClellan as his source; the White House denies having anything to do with the story. McClellan himself says that for him to have made such a leak to Drudge would have been “totally inappropriate, [and if] anyone on my staff did it, they would no longer be working for me.” Four days later, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias writes that the White House, via Drudge, tried to besmirch Kofman because the reporter “gave voice to American troops stationed in Iraq who spoke out against the war—or rather the ‘peace’—while calling for… Rumsfeld’s resignation.” Drudge himself blames the controversy over his story on what he calls “the cultural wars-slash-liberal bias in the media.” [Toronto Star, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/20/2003] New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will observe: “Bush loyalists regularly plant information they want known in the Drudge Report. Whoever [did so] was appealing to the baser nature of President Bush’s base, seeking to discredit the ABC report by smearing the reporter for what he or she considers sins of private life (not straight) and passport (not American).” [New York Times, 7/20/2003] Pamela Strother of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association later says: “While the facts behind this reported smear are unclear, the news coverage itself and the implications are very serious for all journalists and equally troubling for the American public.… Whenever the coverage of a lesbian or gay journalist or the nationality of a reporter is criticized and discredited simply because of the individual’s birthright or sexual orientation, that is a form of dangerous intimidation and a potential professional libel.” [Washington Blade, 7/25/2003]
An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” [Salon, 7/16/2003]
Author and liberal political columnist David Corn writes that he believes conservative columnist Robert Novak deliberately blew “the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security.” It seems as if Novak broke the law as well, Corn observes, all to “strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others.” Corn calls it a “smear” against Wilson and “a thuggish act” by “Bush and his crew [who] abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation’s counterproliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.” Corn is referring to a recent column by Novak in which he outed Valerie Plame Wilson, the husband of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). Corn believes the Novak column came about as part of a White House attempt to besmirch the reputation of Wilson, who recently wrote a column challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Corn cites Wilson’s qualifications for such a task, and notes that ever since the June 12, 2003 revelation that “an unnamed ambassador” had gone to Niger to investigate the claims and reported that the uranium deal likely never happened, the questions over the veracity of the claims as touted by the Bush administration have grown far louder. Administration explanations that the claims were based on “faulty evidence” were not going over well. Corn believes that Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity, and his supposition that she “sent” her husband to Niger, was triggered by a White House effort to impugn Wilson’s reliability and integrity. Corn also notes that Wilson refuses to answer questions about his wife’s career, saying only: “I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the president’s statement in the State of the Union speech.”
Deliberately Damaging a Covert Operative to Punish a Critic? - If Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA agent, Corn writes, then “the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.” Not only has Plame Wilson’s undercover status been compromised, Corn notes, but “her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration.” Her husband notes: “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames.” Philby and Ames were notorious traitors.
Violation of Federal Law - As for the “two senior administration officials” whom Novak claims as his sources, if Novak is accurate, then “a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what’s known as ‘nonofficial cover’ and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material.… This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.” Novak is not liable for an offense because journalists are protected from prosecution unless they engage in a “pattern of activities” to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. But it is possible Novak’s sources are so liable.
Intimidation Tactics - “Stories like this,” Wilson says, “are not intended to intimidate me, since I’ve already told my story. But it’s pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears.” Corn writes that the silence of the White House on the matter tends to give credence to Wilson’s view of the matter, since the Bush administration has heretofore been a jealous guardian of government secrets. “[O]ne might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job,” he writes. “Yet two days after the Novak column’s appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.” [Nation, 7/16/2003]
White House communications director Dan Bartlett holds a staff meeting to coordinate officials’ responses to controversial news items, particularly to the recent White House admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim had been “erroneous” (see July 8, 2003). Among the participants is new White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Although the next presidential election is not until November 2004, McClellan will later write that the White House exists in a permanent “campaign mode,” and Bartlett’s prime focus is to ensure the White House “win[s] every news cycle” and contributes to the “broader [re-election] strategic plan.”
Turning Debate Away from Iraq-Niger, onto War on Terror - As McClellan later observes, “We needed to refocus the debate [away from the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and onto] the larger strategic framework—the big picture of national security that the president would relentlessly push during the re-election campaign against his eventual opponent, [Senator] John Kerry.” The message Bartlett outlines is simple: the president’s obligation is to protect America from terrorists and outlaw regimes. This is done by staying “on the offensive,” as McClellan will later write, “ending threats by confronting them. And a peaceful, freer, and more stable Middle East is key to our own safety and security. Our job was all about keeping the focus on national security and specifically the war on terrorism, which would become the central theme of the president’s re-election campaign. In this context, the war in Iraq was not only justifiable but essential… we were fighting a broad war on terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Coordinating 'Message Push' with Congressional Republicans, Media Conservatives - The “message push” is coordinated with “Republicans in Congress and allies in the media, such as conservative columnists and talk radio personalities [who are] enlisted in the effort and given communications packets with comprehensive talking points aimed at helping them pivot to the message whenever they could. Daily talking points and regular briefings for members and staff would be provided, and rapid, same-news cycle response to any attacks or negative press would be a top priority—an effort Bartlett had spearheaded during the 2000 campaign. It was a determined campaign to seize the media offensive and shape or manipulate the narrative to our advantage.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174-175]
Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/17/2003] The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 2003).
Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/18/2003]
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 146-147] Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338]
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338-339]
The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003; National Security Archive, 7/9/2004]
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003]
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. [White House, 7/18/2003]
Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and communications deputy Cathie Martin hold a luncheon with conservative columnists at Cheney’s Blair House residence, according to testimony given in 2007 (see January 25-29, 2007). Martin, who will testify about the meeting, does not name the columnists, nor does she go into specifics about what is discussed. She will say that the prime topic of discussion is the Iraq-Niger allegations (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the White House’s desire for the columnists to “tell the larger story” to their audiences (see (July 11, 2003)). Martin will testify that Libby issued most of the invitations and she issued “a couple.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
According to a later interview with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, after the Robert Novak column outing his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official appeared (see July 14, 2003), Wilson begins receiving telephone calls from Washington journalists and news agencies about the leak of his wife’s identity. Wilson will characterize the calls as saying, “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall we can’t even put them up.” Shortly afterwards, “a respected journalist” calls Wilson to say, “White House sources are telling us that this story is not about the 16 words,” referring to the specious Iraq-Niger claim made in President Bush’s State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Instead, the journalist tells him, the White House is saying, “this story is about Wilson and his wife.” The calls culminate with a warning from MSNBC host Chris Matthews that White House political strategist Karl Rove has declared Plame Wilson “fair game” for reporters (see July 21, 2003). [MSNBC, 10/5/2003]
The New York Times’s Judith Miller, an outlet for information planted in the media by the Bush administration in he run-up to the Iraq war (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 18, 2002), now reports the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq as 578—a figure far lower than the 1,400 she had reported during the first hours of the war (see March 19-20, 2003). Miller blames the US failure to find any WMD on Pentagon ineptitude: “chaos, disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap.” Deeper in the story, she writes, “To this day, whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons when the war began is unknown.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson has recently been “outed” as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), learns from NBC political reporter Andrea Mitchell that “senior White House sources” have told her that “the real story here is not the 16 words in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) but Wilson and his wife.” Mitchell does not reveal her sources. The next day, Wilson learns that White House political chief Karl Rove has declared his wife “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 5]
Dennis Hastert. [Source: Cleveland Leader]Congressional Republicans join in the White House attempt to recover its credibility on the Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) by attacking critics. Days earlier, President Bush met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Hastert said that Bush needed a stronger defense against criticism, and both men told Bush they and other Congressional leaders were ready to help. Hastert now says that Bush’s critics “want to be president” and are out “to hurt the credibility of the president, to throw mud and see what sticks.” Frist cites the “relative silence in the press about the conditions on the ground” in Iraq “in terms of progress, in terms of improvement.” [Associated Press, 7/22/2003]
Michael Ramirez’s cartoon depicting President Bush being ‘shot’ due to politicization of his State of the Union address. [Source: Wikimedia]Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez publishes a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times depicting a man, labeled “Politics,” pointing a gun at President Bush’s head. The background is labeled “Iraq.” The cartoon is a takeoff on the 1969 award-winning photograph of a Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong prisoner. Ramirez will later explain, “I thought it was appropriate, because I was drawing a parallel between the politicization of the Vietnam war and the current politicization that’s surrounding the Iraq war related to the Niger uranium story.” He will claim not to be advocating violence against Bush, saying, “In fact, it’s the opposite.” Ramirez will explain that he tried to show the damage Bush suffered through the criticism of his January 2003 State of the Union address, in which he falsely claimed that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “President Bush is the target, metaphorically speaking,” Ramirez will explain, “of a political assassination because of 16 words that he uttered in the State of the Union. The image, from the Vietnam era, is a very disturbing image. The political attack on the president, based strictly on sheer political motivations, also is very disturbing.” Two days after the cartoon’s publication, Ramirez is visited by Secret Service agent Peter Damos to ensure he has no violent intent towards Bush, in a visit the Secret Service will characterize as “routine.” Ramirez will note that conservative Internet reporter Matt Drudge reported that he was being investigated by the Secret Service a day before he was visited. Asked if the Secret Service should take the cartoon as a threat to Bush’s safety, Ramirez will respond, “No, I think that this [the Vietnam photo] is a pretty famous image, and I think the use of the metaphor [is justified] especially in light of the fact that it really is a cartoon that favors him and his administration.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/22/2003; New York Press, 11/11/2003]
Columnist Robert Novak, whose earlier column outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), confirms being given information about Plame Wilson by administration sources (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me,” he says. “They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.” He does not name the individuals who provided him with the information. [Newsday, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 2006] Novak will later backtrack, claiming that the leak was less the result of White House pressure and more from his own initiative; he will also accuse Newsday’s Knut Royce, who first reports his statement, of quoting his words “out of context.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent act of retribution by the White House (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003), says that the intention of the outing was to intimidate others like him from speaking out against the Bush administration. “It’s a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we’ll take your family and drag them through the mud as well,” he says. “This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation, but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward” to reveal other intelligence lapses. [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson will elaborate on this concept: “This attack on Valerie may have been the White House’s way of saying that yes, indeed, there would be consequences if anybody else dared to speak publicly. The message to mid-career intelligence officers was clear: Should you decide to speak, we will come after you and your family. Anyone not accustomed to the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics would naturally wonder if the game was worth the candle.” Wilson will call the attack “stupid,” since it is so easy to disprove any allegation that his wife sent him to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002). “It marked a terrible breach of faith between the clandestine services of the CIA and the government it served, and it made my wife a victim. What the White House seemed not to understand, however, was that this attempt to divert the media’s attention from the lie in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) was only going to complicate matters for them. In addition to the question of who was responsible for putting the offending sixteen words into the president’s speech, the press now had a possible violation of law to pursue, not to mention an ugly violation of the code of cowboy chivalry promoted by this administration as the warmer, fuzzier side of its image.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 6-7]
White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 177-178]
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove declares that covert CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, recently outed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), is now “fair game,” presumably for media attacks. Plame Wilson learns of Rove’s declaration when she walks into her den to find her husband Joseph Wilson just getting off the phone. She will later write: “[H]e had a look on his face that I’d never seen before. He said he had just been talking with journalist and Hardball host Chris Matthews [the host of a political discussion show on MSNBC], who had told [Wilson] that he had just spoken with the powerful presidential adviser Karl Rove.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147] Wilson himself will later write that Matthews tells him: “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ‘Wilson’s wife is fair game.‘… I will confirm that if asked.” Wilson will write: “Those are fighting words for any man, and I’d just had them quoted to me.… Rove was legendary for his right-wing zeal and take-no-prisoners operating style. But what he was doing now was tantamount to declaring war on two US citizens, both of them with years of government service.… For a president who promised to restore dignity and honor to the White House, this behavior from a trusted adviser was neither dignified nor honorable. In fact, it was downright dirty and highly unethical even in a town where the politics of personal destruction are the local pastime.” He cannot be sure why he and his wife are being targeted. Surely, he muses, no one believes that his wife sent him on his mission to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002), or that his trip to one of the poorest countries in Africa had been some sort of pleasure jaunt. He realizes that the ultimate target might not be either his wife or himself, but others who may feel impelled to speak out against the administration, a point he makes later in the day to two reporters from Newsday (see July 21, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 1-5] Wilson will later write: “To make a political point, to defend a political agenda, to blur the truth that one of the president’s own staffers had scripted a lie into the president’s mouth, one of the administration’s most senior officials found it perfectly acceptable to push a story that exposed a national security asset. It was appalling.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 351]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent attempt to discredit his debunking of the Iraq-Niger allegations (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell about the outing. Wilson is careful to hedge in his answers about his wife, saying, “If she were [a CIA agent] as [columnist Robert] Novak alleged, then…” and other such caveats. When the interview airs this evening, Wilson is dismayed to see that NBC has edited out all of his careful qualifiers, giving the false impression that he is verifying his wife’s CIA status. He asks Mitchell to provide an unedited transcript of the interview so he can prove he did not confirm his wife’s CIA employment; she says the network does not provide such transcripts, but agrees to preserve the unedited interview on tape in case questions later arise about his statements. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 350-351]
Newsday logo. [Source: Sobel Media]Newsday reports on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson by a news columnist based on information leaked by two administration sources (see July 14, 2003). In an article titled “Columnist Blows CIA Agent’s Cover,” reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce note that CIA officials confirm that Plame Wilson “works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity—at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] It will later be determined that Royce and Phelps’s source is probably a single official, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ] Shortly thereafter, other reporters learn that Plame Wilson was not only an undercover agent, but had what is known as NOC—“nonofficial cover” status (see Fall 1992 - 1996). NOC agents usually operate overseas, often using false identities and job descriptions. NOCs do not have diplomatic protection and thusly are vulnerable to capture, imprisonment, and even murder without official reprisals or even acknowledgement from the US. Vanity Fair reporter Vicky Ward will write in January 2004: “A NOC’s only real defense is his or her cover, which can take years to build. Because of this vulnerability, a NOC’s identity is considered within the CIA to be, as former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack has put it, ‘the holiest of holies.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, refuses to confirm his wife’s covert CIA status, but says that her outing is part of a concerted effort to attack critics of the administration’s intelligence failures (see July 21, 2003). Wilson recently revealed that the administration’s claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 6, 2003). Current and former CIA officials are outraged at Novak’s column, and the apparent leak from the administration. Former CIA Near East division chief Frank Anderson says, “When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned.” A current intelligence official says that blowing Plame Wilson’s cover puts everyone she ever dealt with as an undercover CIA operative at risk. Her husband agrees: “If what the two senior administration officials said is true, they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships, and operations.” Furthermore, if true, “this White House has taken an asset out of the” weapons of mass destruction fight, “not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In 2007, Plame Wilson will reflect: “Not only was it very rare for the agency to validate that an officer was undercover, no matter what the circumstances, but no one from the agency had told me that my undercover status would be confirmed. It would have been nice to at least get a heads-up from someone at work.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147]
Entity Tags: Vicky Ward, Timothy Phelps, Knut Royce, Newsday, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Kenneth Pollack, Frank Anderson, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in Iraq as part of what the New York Times calls a “carefully choreographed visit” to that country to point up the record of brutality compiled by former dictator Saddam Hussein, tells reporters that Iraqi WMD are no longer the “core reason” why the US invaded Iraq, or why it occupies that country. “I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction,” he says. “I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet.” With the US’s help, Wolfowitz says, Iraq can build a “magnificent” democracy. And apparently without a sense of irony, Wolfowitz says foreign nations should not meddle in Iraq’s business. “I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq,” he says. “Those who want to come and help are welcome. Those who come to interfere and destroy are not.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003]
A senior intelligence official confirms that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) was not responsible for selecting her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to determine the truth or falsity of charges that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from there (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002). While Plame Wilson worked “alongside” the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger, the official notes, she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment. “They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising,” the official says. “There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason. I can’t figure out what it could be.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003]
As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. [Associated Press, 7/22/2003; White House, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 7/23/2003; Raw Story, 11/16/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 273; Truthout (.org), 1/23/2007; McClellan, 2008, pp. 178] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 178]
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